The German composer
Draeseke wrote four symphonies. All
of them are now to be heard spread across
three CPO discs played in a uniform
edition by the NDR Radiophilharmonie
conducted by Jörg-Peter Weigle.
You can also hear a Wuppertal-based
reading of the First Symphony coupled
with the Draeseke Piano Concerto on
MDG 335 1041.
On 19 December 1907
Artur Nikisch conducted a still new
symphony at the Leipzig Gewandhaus.
It was the third time he had conducted
it there but on this occasion the igniting
sparks of inspiration fell in profusion.
The concert was a triumph for the composer
Felix Draeseke and soon his Third Symphony
(Symphonia Tragica) was taken
up all over Germany and beyond. After
his death it was this symphony that
provided Draeseke with a very precarious
toehold on the repertoire. In fact for
many years it was this symphony which
held a place for Draeseke in the mono
LP catalogue first on Urania URLP-7162
and then on Varese-Sarabande VC81092.
The artists were the Berlin Symphony
Orchestra conducted by Hermann Desser
or Heinz Drewes.
The present disc gives
the listener a chance to explore the
more arcane works in the Draeseke catalogue
but there is a great deal yet to be
revived including operas (König
Sigurd, Gudrun, Herrat,
Fischer und Kalif, Merlin),
symphonic poems and overtures, incidental
music, cantatas, concertos for violin,
cello and piano, three string quartets
and much else.
The First Symphony
is in four movements. The first shows
the influence of Schubert’s Great C
major and of Schumann 2 and 4. The effects
range from quietly pattering mystery
and diaphanous almost impressionistic
textures to surging and troubled writing.
The scherzo glitters and bubbles with
soloistic woodwind contributions and
Mendelssohnian bustle by the strings.
The adagio is the earth and centre of
gravity of the work. It is interesting
how Weigle does not allow it to drag
pressing forward strongly at the start.
I can imagine slower alternative performances.
Even so it is a problematic movement
with various strong interludes, a feint
at a gesture of real brass-lofted
nobility but ultimately a movement of
promising beginnings one after the other.
Fascinating though. The finale continues
the bustling athletic Schumann-Schubert
manner but weighted towards the heavier
end of the orchestral spectrum. Again
there are momentarily convincing gestures
but ultimately cohesion is flawed.
Between 1908 and 1910
Draeseke had completed two major a
capella works - the Grand Mass
and the Requiem. In 1910
the young Edwin Fischer took up Draeseke's
early C sharp minor piano sonata. In
1912 in Dresden and Berlin his massive
‘Mysterium in Four Parts’, the oratorio
cycle Christus was performed.
Christus is available in a 5
CD set on Bayer 100175.
It was against this
background that he responded to a critic
who said that after his triumph with
the Tragica he should write a
Symphonia Comica. He obliged.
Old age had brought greater concision
across four movements, each of them
circa five minutes duration. The first
is dramatic. The second is a puckish
and picaresque affair trembling and
hiccuping. The light Till Eulenspiegel
manner of that movement carries
over into the third with light textures
and a skipping rhythmic fantastical
character. The nimble writing is offset
with a rustic heavy-shod dance recalling
Beethoven’s shepherds. The finale has
the flighty celebratory manner of Schumann
and at 00:30 develops a fine long-lined
melody with an aspiring quiet theme
which returns at the close.
It is a mark of CPO’s
attention to quality and detail that
there is a long silence between the
end of Comica and the start of
the Gudrun Overture. This overture
starts quiet and sturdy and gradually
rises to a triumphant brass chorale
of some grandeur and nobility. The theme
has a long line which works and ends
extremely well and with some originality.
There is real concert mileage in this
overture. It is fitting that the recording
was made in Hannover as it was there
in 1884 that the opera Gudrun had
Typically CPO have
documented this issue with MGG encyclopedic
Two symphonies by Draeseke
complete the CPO set. The First is flawed
but with its strength concentrated in
the first two movements. The Fourth
is fascinating and well worth getting
to know. The Gudrun overture
is a fine addition to the ranks of late-romantic
No. 2 CPO
No. 3 CPO
in No. 1 G major and Piano Concerto